New Delhi The Union government has set up two high-level scientific panels to put together an advanced agricultural weather information system across India, and to enable an assessment of crop yields in view of increasing extreme weather events, an official said.

Severe heatwaves and changing rainfall patterns threaten India’s food security, especially its rice and wheat cropping systems, critical to feeding the world’s second-most populous nation, climate scientists have warned.

India recorded its hottest March on record this year, which shaved off 3 million tonne from its wheat output. In September, a late surge in monsoon flooded several states, destroying oilseeds and pulses, and delaying the rice harvest.

Weather-related disruptions have sent federally held cereal stocks to a five-year low, prompting India to ban wheat exports and curb rice shipments abroad.

The two committees, notified by the agriculture ministry last month, will be headed by the Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre, New Delhi. They will have multidisciplinary experts and representation from states, amid rising concerns over already visible impact of the climate crisis on crops and farm incomes. Agriculture employs half of the country’s workforce and accounts for 19% of India’s economy.

The first panel on a proposed advanced system will recommend and put in place a string of high-tech, automatic weather stations that will generate timely data and forecasts to help farmers and policymakers prepare better for changes in temperatures, drought and extreme rainfall.

The second panel has been tasked with putting in place faster calculation of yield losses due to extreme weather for quicker farm insurance payouts under the flagship Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. Scientists will work on satellite-based data and technologies such as artificial intelligence for yield calculation. It will submit a report on 45 days.

“With frequent turns in weather patterns, proper yield estimates have become important from national food security point of view,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

For India, the first of the four Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports released this year highlighted evidence of a changing monsoon, rising seas, deadlier heatwaves, intense storms, flooding and glacial melts. The summer rainfall system waters 60% of the country’s crops. Risks to agriculture tend to be more acutely felt because they are most visible, studies have shown.

Rising temperatures have already made Indian agriculture more resource hungry. Farming now consumes up to 30% more water due to “high evaporative demand and crop duration due to forced maturity” in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan, according to ongoing studies by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), .

Apple orchards in Himachal Pradesh are shifting to higher altitudes for lack of sufficient cold weather. “Temperature in apple-growing regions of Himachal Pradesh showed an increase, whereas precipitation showed a decrease in recent years in Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur,” one of the ICAR studies said.

The government’s 2017-18 Economic Survey said extreme weather and drought, when rainfall loss is greater than 40% than the median, will cut farmer incomes by up to 14%.

By Shadab

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